Over the past couple of years I've come to learn that a feeling of freedom revolves around freeing myself from (negative) thinking. Once being replaces thinking I believe one can feel free in the most constrained of circumstances. Such mental version of freedom is something no one is able to take away. It grants joy, fearlessness and gratitude. Society widely appreciates this freedom by celebrating historical figures like Ghandi and Mandela who've shown that freedom of mind can be detached from physical freedom. Moreover, they've shown to be highly productive and one could argue happy in the most dreadfull of circumstances. How on earth are people able to detach mind from their surroundings to such extends that they find happiness in misery?
I regret bringing up the big names of history because I by no means dare to think I'm even 1% of the way there. I do think however there is a couple of tools I've explored over the couple of years that have began to relieve me from a troubled mind & body heavily influenced by circumstantiality. I've described my first steps of questioning my self-image, I've written about how these initial steps let to an incredible adventure through which I've deepened my self-understanding and lastly, I've described how through a meditation practice called vipassana I've come to conclude that everything that is mind is body and vice versa. I've come to understand that healing can be approached both ways, through mind and through body.
Understanding that body is mind is but the first step, a step that for me has been facilitated mostly through meditation. The second step is to try to incorporate this understanding in daily life. To try to continuously be concious of body and mind throughout whatever life throws at you. On, but more importantly, also off the meditation pillow. To, not only cognitively understand, but to feel what that conversation with a collegue, parent or friend does to you. To understand how the body & mind respond to that lady yelling at you for reckless cycling. And to feel where in the body stress arises the moment you realize you've lost your wallet. This has proven to be a hell of a challenge upon returning home from my world bicycle trip. And I've been looking for places to practice.
Surely, I was able to retreat from life through meditation, but important as it is, that didn't give me the opportunity to practice feeling while interacting with people. Moverover, 'regular' life itself and the people around didn't always provide a safe enough space for me to dare to dive into feeling while interacting. So I stuck with meditation mostly. However, some time after returning home, I got lucky enough to be introduced to an awesome activity by Lisette Stuip, an amazingly talented friend of mine. Dance. And specifically something called estatic dance.
Ecstatic dance is expression through movement. Nothing more, nothing less. Guided by a simple set of rules (no shoes, no talking & no intoxications) and a DJ, it is best described as a wild 1,5 hour rave. Venues & times differ although I most commonly visit the Marktkantine on the early Tuesday nights. There is space to get rid of the shoes and to change into comfy clothes; there is an unlimited supply of infused waters and teas; and a team of volunteers puts down soft floor tiles across the venue before every session. The session gets opened by a host after which the DJ will start his/her set.
I have to admit that I've wanted to escape that place the first time I attended. The consequence of the simple set of rules is that I felt completely left on my own. There is nobody to talk to and the bare feet somehow made me feel completely naked. I felt super vunerable and almost afraid to be looked at. Even before the DJ starts and a pre-set playlist is on, I started observing some of the most intense dancing by some of the most funky looking people I had ever seen. Some shake seemingly uncontrollably, some decide to start rolling over the floor and over eachother, and some practice yoga closed-eyed in the corner while other sip their teas looking at the bunch. There's no way of expressing my amazement and replaced feelings of shame with a neighbour, or even if I had brought one, a friend. I think anyone in the room could have caught my omg where the hell am I face throughout that first session.
Fighting the urge to flee the place, I ended up being an awe-struck observer for this entire first session. I sat on the side of the dancefloor trying to process what was going on, both externally as well as internally. Externally, I saw this bunch of way too happy people doing crazy dances on their own and with, or I should say on top of eachother. Admittedly, I loved the music from the start, and it left me rocking throughout the set. Besides, I was drinking some good tea. It was the internal journey that left me quite dazzled. I noticed that my mind jumped around like a xtc-fed kangaroo. It just kept producing judgemental thoughts at insane speeds. A mixture of joy, disgust, envy, shame, fear and a plethora of other emotions slammed me in the face: What the hell are these people? How on earth do they not feel ashamed? God damn! I just had to step aside for this crazy grandma aged lady wildy summersaulting past me across the floor. And why do they seem to be so happy doing all this?! Is there something wrong with me not enjoying this as much as they seem to do? I want to be like these people! No no no, hold up, you don't want to be like these people: nobody you know will ever take you serious anymore when you reveal you've even been to this place! Let alone you start being as crazy as they are! Dang it. Is anyone looking at me? I bet these people can read my thoughts. Lets just get another of that tea.
It took another session to dare to throw out some moves. Another to do so a little more wildly. Another to slowly dance my way to the center of the dancefloor. Another to understand why these raves are referred to as 'journeys' by the ecstatic dance community. And over the next year or so I got to understand that a place like ecstatic dance is exactly that save space I was looking for: a place to feel what is happening on the inside while expressing myself in movement. Besides meditation, I've discovered dance to be a fascinating way of eliminating thinking. More importantly, ecstatic dance has been a place to feel what is happening on the inside when interacting with others. And yes, I've eventually been able to exterminate thinking to such extend that co-creative dances with others take me and the other person rolling across the soft-tiled floor. Only to realize what happened afterwards when thinking kicks in for a moment unintentionally. Heck, I've even attended the first 5 day ecstatic dance festival in Holland last summer. What an absolute bliss those days were. The concept beautifully blends artist performances and partying with the tranquility of a retreat. It's like any festival but it's not. It's like every mindfulness retreat but it's not.
Just like meditation, I believe (ecstatic) dance to be another way of freeing myself from thinking. It is an highly enjoyable and active method for me to forget about all circumstances, to express my internal life and to practice interacting at the most funerable and honest level possible. And just like in meditation, its purpose being to dare to carry over this funerability and honesty into every day life. So that perhaps in the end, one can feel as free as on the Marktkantine dancefloor in any other set of circumstances. I hope never to be confronted with the constrains that mr Mandela or Gandi faced, but if I ever do I hope I would still be able to dance freely, if only internally. Turning the hypothetical situation around: I would have loved to see the energy and moves that both men would have brought to an estatic dance floor. Unsuprisingly for a guy with such positive mindset, Mandela actually had his own dance.